Protesters on Independence Square in Minsk on 20 August. (© picture-alliance/dpa)


  45 Debates

Three years have passed since the mass protests that erupted in Belarus in August 2020 after the presidential elections were brutally quashed by long-time ruler Alexander Lukashenka. Europe's press sees a connection with Russia's war against Ukraine and expresses hopes that change will come to the country.

After the aborted advance on Moscow, the mercenaries of the Wagner organisation have been given the choice between joining the regular Russian army or following their leader Yevgeny Progozhin to Belarus. The uprising is said to have ended also thanks to the mediation of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenka. Commentators discuss the implications of Wagner's relocation.

For several days now speculation has been rife that Alexander Lukashenka could be seriously and perhaps even fatally ill. The Belarusian leader was visibly ailing at the celebrations in Moscow on 9 May, after which he wasn't seen for almost a week. Then on Monday he visited an air force installation, looking pale and speaking very quietly. Commentators wonder what would happen if he was gone.

Polish-Belarusian journalist and activist Andrzej Poczobut was sentenced to eight years of hard labour in a penal colony on Wednesday by a court in Minsk. He has been in pre-trial detention since March 2021. The Gazeta Wyborcza correspondent was convicted on charges of endangering national security through his anti-government reporting. Poland's press is shaken.

The Foreign Minister of Belarus, Vladimir Makei died "a sudden death" on Saturday, according to the state news agency Belta. Makei had been in office under Lukashenka since 2012. Europe's press examines the potential political fallout and, given the unclear circumstances of his death, the question of whom it might benefit.

It has been two years since long-time ruler Aleksandr Lukashenka declared himself the winner of the presidential election in Belarus, even though according to the opposition and international observers, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya had probably won. The ensuing mass protests were violently suppressed, and Lukashenka is still in power rule today. Europe's press takes stock.

The Belarusian blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, husband of opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison. The 43-year-old was convicted of "preparing and organising mass unrest" in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. For commentators, this shows once again how far Lukashenka's Belarus has moved away from democratic standards.

After years of negotiations, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenka have adopted the 28 'Union Programmes' in Moscow, which are intended to promote the harmonisation of their two countries' economic and financial policies. Commentators see this as a first step towards the creation of a joint state - but say that it is perhaps still too early to attach too much importance to the idea.

On 9 August 2020, Belarus's long-time ruler Alexander Lukashenka had himself proclaimed the winner of the presidential election, even though according to the opposition and international observers his challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya had won. Protests of an unprecedented scale followed, but Lukashenka brutally crushed them. One year on Europe's press discusses whether there is any hope of change, and if so, how.

The Belarusian activist Vitaly Shishov, who had been reported missing on Monday, was found hanged from a tree in a park near his home in Kyiv on Tuesday. Police said investigations point to murder staged as suicide. Shishov was head of the organisation Belarusian House in Ukraine and supported opponents of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka who had fled the country.

The trial of Maria Kolesnikova - one of the three leading Belarusian opposition politicians - began behind closed doors in Minsk on Wednesday. Kolesnikova was arrested when she resisted deportation to Ukraine last autumn by tearing up her passport. Now she and her lawyer Maksim Znak face up to twelve years in prison.

The Belarusian track and field athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has been granted a humanitarian visa by the Polish embassy in Tokyo. The sprinter had publicly criticised sports officials in her country, and was apparently to be flown home early against her will. At the airport she sought protection from the police. For Europe's press the episode sheds light on the repression and lack of prospects in Belarus.

So many refugees have arrived in Lithuania since Alexander Lukashenka decided to stop preventing migration flows in protest at EU sanctions that Vilnius has declared a state of emergency and massively increased border patrols. The influx has triggered protests in the country. Now Lithuania, its neighbouring countries and the EU must come up with a far-sighted, intelligent response, journalists urge.

In the wake of the plane hijacking and the resulting EU sanctions on Minsk, the number of migrants crossing the border from Belarus into Lithuania has risen to well over 100 per day - many of them people who have travelled from Iraq, Syria and Russia. Lukashenka has confirmed that he is deliberately not stopping drug smugglers or mass migrations at the border. Lithuania has declared a state of emergency and is now erecting a border fence.

The Belarusian state television broadcaster ONT aired a lengthy interview with the imprisoned government critic Roman Pratasevich in which the 26-year-old blogger - breaking down in tears at times - admitted to organising protests against President Lukashenka and said he in fact admired the president. Belarusian opposition activists in exile and Pratasevich's parents are convinced that the interview was the result of torture.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenka discussed their countries' economic cooperation in Sochi on the weekend. They agreed on the release of a 500-million-dollar credit tranche, but according to media reports no futher major decisions were reached. Commentators assess whether Minsk can still count on Moscow's help.

On the fringes of the Ice Hockey World Championships currently taking place in Riga, the city's mayor and the Latvian foreign minister caused a scandal by replacing the official flag of Belarus flying outside the hotel where the teams are staying with the white-red-white version of the opposition. Belarus reacted by expelling the Latvian ambassador and other diplomats. Now Latvia has retaliated by expelling the Belarusian embassy staff.

The EU has closed its airspace to Belarusian airlines and imposed further sanctions on individuals after the forced rerouting of a Ryanair commercial flight to Minsk. The plane en route from Athens to Vilnius was forced to land in Minsk on Sunday, ostensibly because of a bomb threat, but then the Belarusian dissident Roman Pratasevich, who was on board, was arrested. Europe's press calls for a more radical reaction.

The Belarusian authorities have blocked news website - the country's most popular online media outlet and one of the last independent sources of information. Its editorial offices and the flats of staff were also searched, and several employees were arrested. The official line is that they are suspected of tax fraud. The authorities justified the blocking of the website by saying that it had published "prohibited information".

In Belarus, one opponent of the regime after another is being put on trial. The trial against ex-banker Viktar Babaryka, who was Lukashenka's greatest adversary for a time, started last week. A day later, two reporters were put behind bars over a live stream. And earlier this week a court sentenced young protesters to several years in a labour camp or prison.

In Minsk, two journalists from the Polish-based broadcaster Belsat have been sentenced to two years in prison on charges of organising protests against the head of state Alexander Lukashenka. Yekaterina Andreyeva and Darya Chulsova had reported on an opposition demonstration via livestream in November. Commentators provide details and background info.

The Ice Hockey World Championship is scheduled to start in Riga and Minsk in May, but for political reasons there are strong reservations about Belarus hosting the event. Observers had speculated that the International Ice Hockey Federation might use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to cancel the event in Minsk. But after the organisation's president René Fasel travelled to Minsk for a meeting with Lukashenka, he has come under heavy fire in the press.

Belarusia's President Alexander Lukashenka can apparently now count on the support of the Russian National Guard. On Friday, the Interior Ministry published a cooperation agreement initially including military training and joint exercises. What does this agreement say about the political situation in Belarus, and how should the EU react?

In Minsk, a 31-year-old demonstrator has died of head injuries inflicted during his brutal arrest. He had tried to stop a snatch squad dressed in civilian clothing from removing the red and white ribbons residents had placed on a fence in the courtyard of an apartment building in the Square of Change. He is not the first casualty of the protests against the regime, which have not subsided despite the government's harsh crackdown.

In Belarus, opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya's ultimatum to President Lukashenka has expired. She had called a nationwide strike if he did not resign by 25 October, and since he failed to comply there has been a surge in the demonstrations, which Lukashenka described as "terrorism". Commentators are at odds over who is under more pressure now.

The European Parliament's renowned Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought has gone to the opposition in Belarus in 2020. The award honours the Coordination Council, activists like Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and committed personalities like Svetlana Alexievich, the Parliament declared. Europe's press questions whether the 50,000 euros in prize money are a significant show of support.

Alexander Lukashenka visited detained representatives of the opposition in jail for discussions on Sunday. According to media reports, he tried to persuade them of the merits of his constitutional reform. Two of the participants were released the next day, but a demonstration taking place at the same time was brutally quashed. Was the meeting the start of a dialogue or a publicity stunt?

In view of the situation in Belarus and the repressive acts against prominent IT professionals, Latvia and Lithuania see the chance to attract companies that no longer feel safe there. Latvia, in particular, has low bureaucratic hurdles and, according to the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia (LIAA), some companies have already committed to relocating there. Nervous anticipation can be seen in the Baltic press.

Conflict in the EU persists over sanctions against Minsk in light of the human rights violations in Belarus. While the list of those whose accounts have been blocked and who have been banned from entering the EU now comprises 40 people, Cyprus is blocking the unanimous decision necessary to put the sanctions into effect. Observers speculate about the reasons for the veto and for the lax reactions on the part of Berlin and Brussels.

Lukashenka has been sworn into office for a sixth term in an unannounced ceremony. The event was not broadcast live on television, as is usually the case, and the announcement that it had taken place only came afterwards. Was this confirmation of his status as a dictator alienated from his people or a clever move that prevented violent excesses?

After the meeting between Lukashenka and Putin in Sochi, the fate of Belarus remains uncertain. Europe's press agrees that good relations with Russia are vital for the country. At the same time, neither Lukashenka nor the opposition seem to be fitting partners for Moscow.

While the mass protests continue unabated in Belarus, the country's long-time President Alexander Lukashenka flew to Sochi on Monday to meet with Vladimir Putin. The Russian president received him warmly and agreed to give him a 1.5 billion-dollar loan. The press, however, doesn't see this as a clear profession of solidarity with his beleaguered Belarusian counterpart.

So far Russia has been reticent with respect to the protests in Belarus, but observers now see signs of growing support for Lukashenka in Moscow. Commentators question whether this is the right strategy given the broad-based mobilisation against the Belarusian leader and speculate on future relations in the region.

Contradictory reports circulated on Tuesday after the disappearance of Maria Kolesnikova, one of the leaders of the Belarusian opposition, and two of her colleagues. According to the Belarusian authorities Kolesnikova is in Ukraine. Acquaintances of the 38-year-old, however, have said that she was arrested. What consequences will this have for the opposition and for the regime in Minsk?

Aljaksandr Lukashenka openly admitted on Monday for the first time that the regime in Belarus is a "somewhat authoritarian system" and is centred around the person of the president. He suggested introducing a constitutional reform to be worked out by specialists and constitutional judges, but there was no talk of dialogue with the opposition. Observers are sceptical.

Ever since the post-election protests in Belarus began, observers have been looking to Russia with a mixture of concern and expectation. The consensus is that the Kremlin's reaction will be crucial in determining the fate of long-time President Alexander Lukashenka in Minsk.

The fate of Belarus after its presidential election remains completely open: the protests continue but President Alexander Lukashenka has given no indication that he is willing to offer the opposition concessions, much less step down. Europe's media speculate on how things could develop in the country.

After weeks of protests following the Belarusian elections, Aleksander Lukashenka asked Russia for help. Putin has now set up a reserve force for the neighbouring country. Commentators fear a Russian invasion and demand that the EU take a more decisive stand to defend the Belarusian opposition against Kremlin intervention.

The EU leaders are discussing the situation in Belarus and the mass protests rocking the country at an emergency summit today. Shortly before the video conference began, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against foreign intervention in Belarus. What can the EU do to defuse the tensions in the country?

In Russia, the politicians and the public are at odds as to how to react to the developments in Belarus - also because Lukashenko has always been a close ally. While many express solidarity with the Belarusians, others fear alienation like in Ukraine. Commentators discuss the pros and cons of active intervention by Russia in Belarus.

The European Union is considering sanctions against Belarus over allegations of manipulation in the country's presidential election. EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell has said the election was neither free nor fair. He also criticised brutality on the part of law enforcement authorities and the mass imprisonment of demonstrators and journalists. What steps should Brussels take?

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya left Belarus for Lithuania on Wednesday. Before her departure she had tried to lodge a complaint with the election commission in Minsk against the official election results and was detained for seven hours. Commentators discuss what this means for the opposition movement in Belarus and call on Europe to adopt a clear stance.

According to official sources Viktor Lukashenko won 80.2 percent of the vote in Belarus's presidential election on the weekend. However, opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (who officially received only 9.9 percent) rejected the results. Security forces have resorted to brutal measures to break up the ensuing mass protests. Europe's press analyses the situation and discusses how the international community should react.

Presidential elections will be held in Belarus on Sunday - but this time the usual election victory for Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country for 26 years, is more uncertain than ever. The opposition has rallied around the candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who entered the race at short notice to replace her imprisoned husband. But not all commentators are convinced that she can win.

The presidential election in Belarus is scheduled for August 9. Several opposition candidates who seem to have considerable popular support are planning to run for office. This could mean that President Lukashenko, who has been ruling the country autocratically for 26 years, may not win so easily this time. Or is even a change of regime on the cards?